Agency – learning, growing and moving forward

Agency – No, not the agency you call to find a cleaning person, or the insurance agency. I am thinking more about that personal agency that we have or use to help us learn, that leads us to take action towards goals or to develop new skills.

Here are two definitions I found on Google :

Personal agency can be defined as the ability to initiate and direct actions toward the achievement of defined goals (Zimmerman and Cleary, 2006).

Personal agency refers to one’s capability to originate and direct actions for given purposes. It is influenced by the belief in one’s effectiveness in performing specific tasks, which is termed self- efficacy, as well as by one’s actual skill.

This ability or this agency that people have to push themselves forward into new jobs, new ways of leading their lives is fascinating to me. You see this clearly in some people. The drive to keep moving no matter way. The desire to learn, create and move themselves into new spaces is powerful to watch.

In my reading of new memoirs recently I have seen this internal direction over and over again. People who are experiencing hardships – either emotional, or physical issues and yet they find they have a drive to push through. They don’t just curl up and watch the world walk by. They dig in their heels or maybe better to say they put on their dancing shoes or work boots to go at it in anyway they can.

I am currently reading Suleika Jaouad’s new book Between Two Kingdoms. She is a young woman who fought leukemia, with a 35 percent chance of survival. I have not finished reading it but what a powerful story of illness and recovery. (you may have seen her column in the NYT – Life Interrupted.) She is a amazing example of personal agency. This line of one having the ability to initiate and direct actions toward the achievement of a goal is exactly what you see in this young lady. Her goal was survival but in that she created a whole new life for herself. She created much more!

There is Jedidiah Jenkins who wrote To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret who also took a different kind of journey but again made a decision to step out of the day to day life and do something very different. A person who set goals for himself that most did not think was doable or wise and yet it was a journey he wanted, needed and accomplished.

Yes, these two went through struggles, fears and hard times. One made a choice and the other had the journey was thrown upon her with no choice but both found their way through to growth, deep learning and new ways of being.

So what is it that makes a person take these steps? How is this agency developed in an individual? Or is this something that we just have within us. Is it taught and nurtured along during childhood? Words like persistence and resilience pop into my mind and a person with a strong sense of self also fits when thinking about people who have self-efficacy. They speak up for themselves and keep going. They are definitely not quitters.

I believe we all hold some of this self efficacy within us. If we look at our past we can find times where we have pushed through hard times or ill health. I expect we can all think of times that we wondered if we would make it or how we were going to get out of a very low place in our lives. We have all experiences deep “Winters” as Katherine May says in Wintering. (Another memoir that fits into this line of thinking – Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times)

As we look at our own lives or the lives of our children, and grandchildren, during this pandemic and hard political time, what do we need to do to help ourselves and our children learn to believe in ourselves/themselves? What steps do we take to build strength of self and encourage them to push through to new beginning and to development of new skills and understanding?

We need to be helping all of us to be flexible in our thinking and in the way we see the world. We need to be stepping out of our old ways of working and try something new. It would be so easy right now to curl up for a long “wintering” nap and just not try. It is not what we need.

I don’t have big answers here. I struggle with this finding initiate or agency to move into new spaces and new thinking. I struggle with not trusting myself, my skills or my ability to learn. Yet I have not curled up for a long sleep. I keep moving.

I watch daily as my Grandson pushes himself to learn new skills. He is daily learning new words, working puzzles over and over again to understand how they work. He does not fear doing things wrong. He is all about trying everything. At 20 month of age all of it is learning, everything is new and lots of it is frustrating but on he goes one step at a time. I am careful to help him embrace this leaning and to celebrate it all the time.

Take time as we move our way out of this long pause of a pandemic to reflect on how you have wintered this time? How have you helped yourself, your children, students or grandchildren to move forward with positive thinking and a willingness to embrace the new ways of being.

Are you nurturing yourself or those around you to have personal agency? Are you finding ways to embrace yourself, your skills and step into a new way of being? Think about it!

Now is the time!

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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1 Response to Agency – learning, growing and moving forward

  1. arjeha says:

    You lose some interesting questions. I believe that how we face things and handle them stems from encouragement we received as children. If we are told to keep trying and we believe in ourselves then we will move forward no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

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